Cookeville is home to an eclectic group of craft breweries created by local families and passionate entrepreneurs. Photo Cred: @technopaul
Think about your favorite brewery. What makes it special? Most likely, it’s the friendly faces, the inviting atmosphere and, of course, the beer itself. Many breweries offer an environment that’s more open, rustic, and approachable than a traditional bar or restaurant, which makes visiting them a great way to really get to know a destination. In Cookeville, several unique breweries call the area home, each offering locals and visitors a taste of the local Upper Cumberland flavor—with their own personal touch, of course. To help you get to know them, we connected with each brewery owner to hear how they got started, what their breweries are all about, and why you should head over for a beer or two soon.
Calfkiller Brewing Company
Dave and Don Sergio, brothers and owners of Calfkiller Brewing Co. in Sparta, TN, started homebrewing together nearly 20 years ago out of a small horse barn in Dave’s backyard, becoming the region’s first official brewery.
“We found that the Calfkiller River water was great for making beer, so from about 2004 to 2010 —when we got legal—we were making 50 gallons every weekend on a 10-gallon system, and we’d sell our services as opposed to the beer,” says Dave.
As the area’s first brewery, they were the first to maneuver the complex licensing process, which had its own set of challenges. During that time, they spent nights and weekends adding brewing space onto the barn—all while keeping their day jobs in the construction industry.
The brewery and beer garden officially opened in 2010, both of which are still located in the barn in Dave’s backyard. “I have a 12-step commute,” he jokes.
The location isn’t the only thing that’s remained constant during the brewery’s evolution. Dave says they’re not big on following trends or style constraints in their beers, focusing instead on “unparalleled drinkability” and “uncompromised complexity.” Another non-negotiable? Using natural ingredients.
“It’s gotta grow here if we’re going to use it,” Dave says. “We are strictly no fake crap in the beer.”
As the brewery approaches its 10-year anniversary—no small feat for any business—they’ve maintained that commitment to quality with an eye on smart growth. The brothers recently purchased land on the banks of the Calfkiller River, where they will eventually relocate the brewery.
Jig Head Brewing Company
Two years ago, Jig Head Brewing Co. founder Manny Edwards found himself in between jobs, trying to figure out what to do for his next business venture. An avid homebrewer for some 30 years, Edwards was looking for a family operation that he and his wife could pass along to their five children, and the beer industry seemed like a natural fit.
But Edwards, a dual citizen of the United States and Switzerland who enjoys discovering new beers on his world travels, was pleasantly surprised to discover his offspring were as excited as he was about the prospect of a family business in brewing.
“This seemed like a cool business to start, and the kids said, ‘We’d like to brew!’” he recalls.
More than two years later, Edwards’ three boys are working at the brewery, and his two daughters are planning to jump in when they’re older. Edwards taps into his three decades of homebrewing experience to develop the recipes, and once he’s fine-tuned them to his liking, he turns the brewing process over to his sons.
Jig Head’s focus on distribution sets it apart among area breweries. By the end of the year, their beer will be available in bottles all over Tennessee. “Our beers in distribution are classic styles done in outstanding fashion,” says Edwards.
Edwards is also excited to begin offering canned beer soon, which he says is an ideal choice for local outdoor enthusiasts to take camping and fishing.
Beer enthusiasts shouldn’t miss a stop at the Jig Head taproom to taste the goods right from the source while they’re in Cookeville. It boasts an attractive beer garden and 16 beers on draft.
Red Silo Brewing Company
In 2014, WCTE, the region’s PBS station, hosted the Blues & Brews Craft Beer Festival in Cookeville, an event that led to the birth of Cookeville’s first craft brewery. The October gathering would prove to be life-changing for Elijah Thomen, Mark Vanderbleak, and Jim Helton, whose craft beer creations proved to be hit at the festival homebrewers’ competition.
“We had a huge response, and it encouraged us to start looking into opening a brewery,” says Thomen, who now owns Red Silo Brewing Co. in Cookeville with Vanderbleak and Helton.
When the trio started exploring possible spaces for their venture, they looked at a building with an attached old, rusty silo. Ultimately, they didn’t choose that location, but the name stuck, and they opened Red Silo on the historic Westside in 2016.
In just three years, business has boomed, and the brewery has made a big impression on the area beer scene. It’s earned first-place awards at the Nashville Predators Craft Beer Festival, Townsend Craft Beer Festival, and Blues & Brews, where it all got started.
At the taproom, you can choose from 24 beers on draft. “I’ve got nearly 90 recipes right now, and because the craft beer industry loves variety, we often rotate recipes,” says Thomen.
Non-drinkers and kids, meanwhile, can enjoy homemade craft sodas. Owners are also working on expanding the brewery to meet the demands of their distribution in Middle and East Tennessee.
Hix Farm Brewery
Hix Farm, located just outside of Gainesboro, TN, has been in JB Young’s family since 1790. But when Young, who lives in Colorado with her mom and husband, inherited the Tennessee farm, she wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.
“At the time, we’d been growing hops in our backyard just for fun, and we had this idea that nobody was growing hops in Tennessee,” she says. “So, we had the idea to grow all these ingredients and brew beer.”
And just like that, the family found a purpose for the old farm.
The plan was to grow the hops and other ingredients on the farm and use them to make beer, similar to the way the winemaking process works at a vineyard, and in May 2017, Hix Farm Brewery opened its doors in Cookeville, across from legendary landmark Ralph’s Donuts. Young and her husband manage the business from Colorado.
Though they aren’t using their own hops quite yet, Hix Farm Brewery focuses on sourcing fresh ingredients like locally grown corn and malt.
“Our goal is to give beer a local character, so the most important thing is being good stewards of local business and making sure we use local ingredients whenever possible to focus on that farmhouse aspect,” Young explains.
The cozy taproom evokes that farmhouse aesthetic as well, with wagon wheels, washboards, and other rustic decor salvaged from the farm. And, of course, there’s plenty of beer, too: You can usually choose from 10 to 12 options on tap.
Happy Trails Brewing Company
When Jessica Upchurch started homebrewing with her husband, their motivation was simple: They wanted a way to try some new styles of beer. As they developed their skills and dug deeper into the industry, they realized that other people in Sparta were looking for the same thing. Upchurch went on to complete a brewing program at Auburn University, a fellowship at Oskar Blues, and practicums at three local breweries before the couple opened Happy Trails Brewing Co. in Sparta, TN, in 2018—becoming the area’s newest brewery and an excellent addition to the fledgling local scene.
“We saw that there was a need in downtown Sparta,” says Upchurch. “People were looking for somewhere to go to enjoy an afternoon or to listen to music, and there wasn’t a venue.”
Just like its name implies, Happy Trails is an ideal spot to kick back with loved ones over a few beers while listening to live music or playing lawn games; food trucks and special events are also part of the mix. Upchurch and her husband, who have a daughter, also knew they wanted their brewery to be family-friendly. “We want to make sure that everybody feels like they can be there,” she says.
In addition, Upchurch keeps a focus on the outdoors because of all the fantastic recreation opportunities nearby. Through a partnership with Tennessee State Parks, Happy Trails’ brews are a nod to local names like Burgess Blonde, Montgomery Belgian, and Ranger Brown.
Upchurch is thrilled at how the local brewing community has embraced Happy Trails. “If I ever have questions or need help with something or I’m missing an ingredient, I can always call one of our local breweries, and someone is willing to help,” she says. “That’s what’s cool about the brewing community.”
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Written by Madison Eubanks for Matcha in partnership with Visit Cookeville.